Celebrating 100 years of Little Obelia


These illustrations show remarkable ingenuity on the part of the artist, who has given a personality to a number of familiar Australian plants and animals, and handled them with considerable humour … All the grumpy grown-ups will enjoy them, too! – Sydney Mail, 7 December 1921


In time for the Christmas present rush 100 years ago — in November 1921 — May Gibbs released her third and final full-length book featuring Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. The timely release ensured that the ‘enchanting and delightful’ Little Obelia and Further Adventures of Ragged Blossom, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie was guaranteed successful sales and would find its way into the Christmas stockings of gumnut fans, young and old.

Like its predecessors Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918) and Little Ragged Blossom (1920), Little Obelia was published with a plain brown dust jacket, an illustrated cover, two colour plates and 19 full-page plates in sepia.

Word about the new book by one of the country’s favourite author-illustrators spread quickly. On 21 November 1921 publishers Angus & Robertson sent almost 100 review copies to newspapers all over Australia, and only a few days later the advertisements and articles began to appear:

… undoubtedly the finest piece of work that this artist has turned out

 The Land, 25 November 1921


Pictures that are alive with imagination and have artistic skill and humor combined.

Western Champion, Parkes, 8 December 1921


He would be a crusty old cynic indeed who could not pleasurably revel for a time at least with these delightful little creatures of the Australian bush in their land of enchantment.

The World’s News, Sydney, 3 December 1921

As people were racing out to buy copies of Little Obelia for 7 shillings 6 pence to put under their Christmas trees, Sydney department store Grace Bros at Broadway was hosting Santa Claus in Gum-Nut Land. Children could enter Gum-Nut themed competitions: colouring in for those up to 10 years of age, and an essay on their visit to Gum-Nut Land for those over 10.

In Little Obelia, Cuddlepie journeys undersea to the land of the Fish Folk, where he enlists the help of Ann Chovy, John Dory and Little Obelia to rescue his friend Ragged Blossom. Meanwhile, Snugglepot continues his land adventures with Mr Lizard, Mrs Snake and the Banksia men.

Original Illustrations for Little Obelia and Further Adventures of Ragged Blossom, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, 1921, by May Gibbs


May Gibbs spent her childhood in Perth drawing under the guidance of her artist father Herbert Gibbs. She began entering her paintings of Western Australian wildflowers in the annual Perth wildflower show, and these paintings were exhibited in 1900 in the West Australian Court of the Paris International Exhibition.

Gibbs continued to take inspiration from the natural world and took pride in accurately reproducing plants and animals. Her personal library included botanical and natural history reference books, among them Hutchinson’s Animals of All Countries, which depicts many of the marine animals that appear in Little Obelia.

The new book was a resounding success, and was still being suggested as a Christmas gift in newspapers three years later. A paperback edition came out in 1929, and in 1940 it was included in The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. May Gibbs’ Australian fairy stories endure to this day, and several of her books have recently been republished ... just in time for Christmas.

Sarah Morley, Curator, Research and Discovery.